15 Minute Read
We’ve passed the autumn equinox and as we head further into the cold weather, it is fire season. There’s probably nothing more hygge than getting snuggled up under a blanket next to a roaring fire – apart from being next to a fire that is in a beautifully decorated fireplace, of course. In this post, we’re taking a look at ideas to make your fireplace look great, and your mantel, as well as a few ways to ensure your fireplace is as efficient, and sustainable as possible.
What is a fireplace mantel?
Mantels are a type of frame, or shelf that goes on the wall, above the fireplace. While they were traditionally put in place to help direct smoke and fumes up the chimney, and stop them escaping into the centre of the room, today’s modern homes don’t need this feature. A mantel isn’t an essential, but they are a decorative feature that can draw the eye to the fireplace, as a focal point in the room.
In most homes in the UK today, you’ll find one of two types of mantels – either a simple shelf style that sits above the top of the fireplace, or a full surround that completely surrounds the fireplace. Full surround styles tend to be more decorative, and so they’re usually better for larger rooms in more traditional style homes.
You can find mantels made from several different types of materials, and the décor of the room is likely to influence the material you’d choose for your mantel. In rustic, or traditional rooms, materials such as wood and natural stone work well; in industrial rooms, metals and brickwork look great; and in rooms that lean towards minimalism or more clean lines, such as the modern style, marble, glass, and unadorned woods are appropriate.
Can I add a mantel to a fireplace myself?
Absolutely! There are plenty of options to be found at hardware and DIY stores, if you prefer a more ornate look to your fireplace surround and mantelpiece, but if you’re like us and prefer a simpler, more rustic mantel, then we’ve got you. Our range of solid wood mantels are available in different depths, and are easy to fit, with stainless steel keyhole fixings. You’ll receive everything you need to fit your mantel to a solid wall, and not only that, but you can choose from one of our eight natural wax finishes, so your new mantel can complement your existing furniture and décor perfectly.
How can I decorate a fireplace mantel?
You can decorate a fireplace mantel with almost anything that you’d use to decorate a shelf – within reason, of course! It is best not to put anything precious there, just in case it falls off and lands in the flames, or is damaged by heat. Better to be safe than sorry! But keeping important things safe aside, you can style your mantel exactly as you would a shelf in your home. That means:
Pick a great anchor piece
which might be a large piece of art, a big vase, a mirror, or another ornament.
Two anchor pieces can work
playing around can give you a fresh look.
Keep it simple
less is most definitely more, so use groups of three items to avoid the mantel getting cluttered.
Remember perfection is not essential
you won’t find perfection in many professionally styled homes!
Remember, even when you think you have finished styling your fireplace mantel, nothing has to be permanent. You can change it up whenever you feel like it, whether that is from season to season, or just every now and again.
I don’t use my fireplace; how can I make it look good?
You might not use your fireplace for a number of reasons – perhaps the chimney has been closed up, maybe you’re not a fan of cleaning out the ashes, or it might be that your property is a rental and you’re not allowed to use it under the terms of your tenancy agreement. Whatever the case may be, you can still make your fireplace look great, and you definitely should! If you have a mantel, then decorating it is one part, of course, but you can also decorate inside the firebox, and the hearth. Some of our favourite ideas for decorating inside the firebox and on the hearth include:
- Setting up logs in a pretty stack in the fireplace grate – so it looks ready to be lit
- Keep a firewood basket on the hearth next to the firebox – again, so it looks as though you’re prepared for a fire anyway
- Remove the grate and arrange a number of candles (battery operated, LED ones are fine!) there instead – if you plan to light these, propping a mirror behind creates the illusion of twice as many, and doubles the brightness
- Place a piece of art, an antique, or ornament in the firebox – the fireplace effectively frames it and draws the eye
- Arrange house plants in the firebox – snake plants, peace lilies, and hoyas are houseplants that can cope in shady spots
- Buy an electric log burner – these are increasingly affordable and can provide efficient heat too
Of course, there are even more opportunities to decorate your fireplace, and your mantel periodically. We’re thinking about:
🎃 Autumnal foliage with pumpkins (real or faux!)
🎄 Christmas decorations such as fairy lights, garlands, and baubles
❄️ Icy decorations into January
🌹 Romantic red roses in the first half of February for Valentine’s Day
Once the warmer months come back around, there are plenty of seasonal decorations there too, especially if your garden has started to bloom – and the best part of this is that if you’re using flowers cut from your garden, they can be composted to go back into your garden.
How can I make my fireplace more efficient?
With the so-called ‘cost of living crisis’ and energy bills increasing, many homes are looking for ways to stay warm without using the utilities, and using the fireplace is just one way that many people are keeping their homes a bit warmer. But if like us, you’re a big fan of making sure your home is as sustainable as possible, then you might be questioning if you should be using your fireplace at all. While smoke from fireplaces isn’t great for the air quality, there are ways to use your fireplace more efficiently, getting the most heat from it, and reducing the impact on the environment too.
The key to minimising the impact of your fireplace on the environment is to make sure you’re using the right type of fuel. Poor quality solid fuels are known to be the most polluting, so be certain to source seasoned firewood, rather than ‘wet wood’ that hasn’t been properly dried. This will help the wood to burn slower, at higher temperatures (so more heat for you!) and with less smoke. Don’t be tempted to burn wood that has been painted or otherwise finished – it’ll release smoke and other nasty particles.
Open fires can be pretty inefficient, so if you’re thinking about revamping your fireplace, adding glass fireplace doors can help to radiate the heat into the living area. Otherwise, a wood burning stove with a glass front can help you to manage your fire and the heat much more efficiently. If these aren’t in your budget at the moment, there are a few steps you can take to help your fire to heat your space that bit more efficiently:
Add a fire basket, or a grate to the fireplace. This small platform will keep the fire wood contained more safely (no burning logs rolling!) as well as keeping the fire wood off the floor, allowing for more oxygen to reach the fire, so it will burn hotter.
Install a fireback. These are sheets of metal (traditionally, they were cast iron) that are installed behind the fire. When installed, they protect the brickwork, but also help to reflect the heat into the living space. They’ll also retain the heat when the fire has gone out, which helps to keep your space warm for longer.
Warm up the chimney before you start building a big fire. Lighting a few sheets of newspaper and holding them at the base of the chimney before you light the fire will help to warm the inside of the chimney, and force cold air out the top – so the heat is retained within your home better.
Create an ash bed. When you’re cleaning out the fireplace after a fire, don’t get rid of all the ash. A small layer of ash in the fire bed will help to insulate the fire from the coldness of the floor, making it easier to heat up and start.
Build your fire properly. We’re not going to teach you that in this post, because there are loads of guides online – but get it right, and your fire will burn more efficiently, and with more heat, for longer.
Use fireplace tools to manage the flames. Fireplace tools such as tongs and log rollers mean that you can turn the logs to keep the flames going for longer.
When you’ve finished your fire, don’t forget to close the damper, which is a metal device to keep air, moisture and debris out of the firebox. Leaving the damper open means you’ll lose a lot of heat out of your chimney – just like if you had left a window open. When your fire goes out, closing the damper means the firebox will retain the heat for longer, which is good news for keeping your home warmer through the night.
Finally, get your chimney swept periodically. This will remove blockages, build-up of soot, and reduce the chance of accidental fire.
What should I do with fireplace ashes?
If you’re burning properly dried wood in your fireplace, you’re in luck – the small amount of wood ash left can be used in a number of ways, once it is completely cooled, of course. Some of these ideas are more practical than others, but you can:
Use fireplace ash in your garden – it can go in your compost, or you can sprinkle it around plants to discourage slugs and snails from attacking them.
Use it to rub down a smelly dog if you don’t have time to bath them – it won’t completely take away the stink of whatever they rolled in, but it will make them a bit more bearable until you can get them washed properly!
Use ash residue to clean the black marks off the glass front of your fireplace or wood burning stove. Dip a damp cloth in the ash, then rub on the glass – the mild abrasiveness of the ash can be all you need to get the glass clean again.
Use it to de-ice paths and driveways – particularly if it is snowy. Ash contains high levels of potassium, which melts ice, and can help to provide grip for car tyres and wet boots.
Use small amounts of ash as a dehumidifier. In damp or musty wardrobes or rooms, you can use a small bowl, or tray of ash to help absorb moisture. Change every few days, and dispose of the used ash in the garden.
Use ash to make soap – yes, really! All you need is a natural fat, such as coconut oil, mixed with rainwater or distilled water, add the ash and any essential oils, and you can create a soap that is great for dry and sensitive skin. There are lots of different methods detailed online, and you can even use ash to make laundry liquid too!
Our final thoughts
Your fireplace offers you a huge amount of potential to add to the ambience of your space, as well as providing heat in your home. Whether you’re decorating a grand, ornate fireplace, or a simple one, there are loads of ways to decorate it. Adding a new mantel, decorating your fireplace, and your mantel, are all relatively easy to do – and so is keeping your fireplace working efficiently for you. When you’ve decorated your fireplace, and especially if you’ve fitted a mantel from our range, don’t forget to tag us in your Instagram posts @bensimpsonfurniture – we love to see your pictures!